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Japan Scolds US Official Over Beef Shipment


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other top Japanese officials have told visiting Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick of their disappointment over a U.S. meat exporter's violation of an agreement that had allowed U.S. beef back into the country. Japan has since closed its market in response to the shipment of veal that contained banned spinal matter.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick looked subdued going into meetings in Tokyo with top Japanese officials.

On this trip, Zoellick had planned to call for a wider opening of Japan's market to U.S. beef, following last month's partial lifting of a two-year ban.

But just before Zoellick arrived, imports of American beef were again banned, because of Friday's discovery by customs inspectors of backbone in a shipment from New York. Such material is not allowed into Japan because of its suspected link to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the brain-wasting disease known as mad cow.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he told Zoellick that Japanese people are extremely sensitive when it comes to matters of food safety.

Mr. Koizumi told reporters that such an incident should never happen again and measures need to be taken by the United States to ensure that is indeed the case.

The prime minister adds that Zoellick told him Washington would take such measures and wants to deal with the issue in such a way as to boost mutual trust.

The Deputy Secretary of State made no remarks to reporters as he entered and left his meetings. But Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters that in their separate meetings with Zoellick, he expressed deep regret over the mistake and called it unacceptable on the part of the United States.

The Agriculture Department has rushed a damage control team to Japan. They are to meet Tuesday with Japanese agriculture ministry officials.

Ministry officials say they are considering inspecting every single beef shipment from the United States, if and when imports resume.

The reinstated total ban is a blow to many American cattle ranchers.

Exports to Japan represented a $1.4 billion business when the shipments were halted following the discovery, in the U.S. State of Washington, of BSE in a single dairy cow in December 2003.

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